Healthcare workers at Mission Neighborhood Health Center (MNHC) are ready to strike in early January as, they say, contract negotiations with the clinic’s management have hit a wall. The employees of MNHC complain that their wages haven’t increased over the years, and many are finding it hard to commute to their jobs with the high cost of living in the area. 

According to John Avalos, a former supervisor, current supervisorial candidate, and an organizer for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, negotiations with management in late December ended without any progress. The 45 employees at the health clinic represented by the NUHW union were asking for a nine percent increase in their first contract year, with a six percent increase every year after, totaling 21 percent in wage increases spread over three years. 

Management countered with just a 0.5 percent bump in the contract’s third year, Avalos said. 

“The members took their proposal as a slap in the face,” he continued, “and stormed out of the last bargaining session.”

Avalos said that he and the workers are getting ready to potentially strike on the week of Jan. 6 unless the management of the clinics can offer a reasonable wage increase. This would be the first strike at the 56-year-old nonprofit health center, which has two San Francisco locations: 240 Shotwell St. near 16th, and at 4434 Mission St. in the Excelsior.

Workers at the Shotwell health clinic told Mission Local in October that some of them had not received a pay raise in years. One employee had been working at MNHC for over 30 years, and she only made $20 an hour. Some of the employees feel they are also doing two different jobs at the same time — such as drawing blood and basic nursing work — but are not being compensated enough. Some commute from Hayward and Richmond and said they continue to do so because they love their job and community. But wages are stagnant, and the high price of living in the Bay Area is squeezing people out. 

Avalos said that most of the health care employees at the clinic make around $19 an hour and have had to move out of the city due to the high cost of rents.

Mission Local contacted management staff at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, but they replied that they were not aware of an impending strike. CEO Brenda Storey is out of town, but she did write to Mission Local in October regarding the brewing work troubles. 

In that email, she stated that the union’s claims that the clinic had made millions in profit were not true. Storey wrote that in the last contract negotiations, a two and a half percent raise had been approved. She said that the health center really only has a reserve of $3.5 million, but its monthly bills total up to $1.6 million. 

Storey said that while local grants top off at two percent increases every year, federal grants have not increased — and that is what keeps her from increasing wages. 

“MNHC is trying to negotiate in good faith, and we wish to come to an agreement that is acceptable to all parties and, especially, to assure the financial viability of a community clinic that serves the most vulnerable and poorest segments of the community,” Storey wrote.

Avalos, however, disputed Storey’s earlier claim that the clinic couldn’t afford a wage increase. He said that the total wage increases would total about $203,000 in the first year, then level out at $105,000 every year after that. With a yearly budget of $20 million, he thinks it’s doable.

“We shouldn’t have to sacrifice our own economic comfort to take care of vulnerable people in the Bay Area,” Avalos said.

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai has a MNHC clinic in his district too, and he picketed alongside the workers at the Mission clinic in October. 

“It’s sad that in the holidays workers are having to contemplate striking to make better wages. We support the workers; we’re here to support both sides,” Safai said on Dec. 31. “We’re prepared and ready to help reach an equitable outcome. “

Calls and emails placed to Supervisor Hillary Ronen, whose district includes the Shotwell location, were not immediately returned. 

MNHC opened in 1963 and has been operating in the Mission ever since.